Binghamton University faculty apply for official Russian major

Departmental program to become the first of its kind within the SUNY system

For the first time in nearly 50 years, Binghamton University may be home to an official Russian studies major, a first for the SUNY system.

During the fall 2013 semester, faculty from the Russian program submitted an application to Harpur College in order to create a departmental Russian studies major.

Currently, there is no departmental Russian studies major at BU. Instead, students may pursue an individualized major program (IMP). The IMP is standardized, requiring approximately 12 courses and language competency up to Russian 305: Advanced Reading and Composition as well as approval from an adviser.

Nancy Tittler, senior Russian instructor and the undergraduate director of the Russian and East European studies program, said she worked with other faculty for months to apply to Harpur College.

“I collaborated with my colleagues in crafting our application over the course of a year of meetings; together, we outlined the strengths and needs of our program, composed our mission statement and revamped our major requirements and course offerings,” Tittler wrote in an email. “As the longest-serving member of our Russian faculty, I was able to provide historical background on the past three decades of Russians studies at BU.”

The application must be approved by Harpur College, Binghamton University’s Faculty Senate, Provost Donald Nieman, President Harvey Stenger, SUNY central administration in Albany and the New York State Education Department, which officially registers the major. The process can take up to two years, but Tittler said she expects to see the major sometime in 2015.

BU had a Russian department with a major program until the mid-1970s. In 1982, the Russian program was incorporated into the German department. The “Russian equivalent” IMP was introduced in 1995 and has been in effect since.

“This arrangement made it possible for students to complete a Russian-emphasis IMP major under the guidance of faculty from various departments, including German and Russian Studies, history, political science and comparative literature, during a time of limited staffing and course availability in Russian area studies,” Tittler wrote.

According to Tittler, the Russian program has four full-time faculty members, as well as affiliated faculty in other departments and undergraduate teaching assistants. Despite its size, the program has proven to be popular.

“Enrollments have been consistently high, in comparison to Russian programs in similar institutions, for the past several years,” Tittler wrote. “We offer language instruction from beginning through advanced levels, “Russian for Russians” courses for heritage learners, and a variety of literature and cultural studies courses taught in English. ”

According to Tittler, creating a departmental Russian studies major would have significant benefits, allowing students a stable course schedule as well as providing a unique program within the SUNY system.

“If the major is approved, we will be the only SUNY campus at which students can major in Russian Studies,” Tittler wrote. “With a regular departmental major, prospective and current students can readily access and enroll in our program through the Department of German and Russian Studies without going through IMP,” Tittler wrote.

Kenneth Law, a junior double-majoring in philosophy, politics and law and the “Russian equivalent” IMP, said he enjoyed the liberties that come with an IMP.

“Studying Russian as an IMP is nice because you can practically create your own major,” Law wrote in an email. “Unlike other majors, there is a great degree of freedom, and I have taken several interesting classes because of it. I am able to choose any class offered by the Russian department and have it count toward my major.”

However, Law said the IMP can be hard to change after the initial process.

“While it is nice to be able to choose the classes that count to your major, you have to notify the people who create the major what classes you are taking. If you stray from the initial set of classes you intended to take, then you have to contact the people and let them know what changes have been made to your course listing. It can be very tedious at times,” Law wrote.

Law said he agreed with the decision to create a departmental Russian studies major at BU.

“The Russian department works tirelessly to provide interesting classes, and I believe they do not get enough credit,” Law wrote. “Having a Russian Studies major would properly recognize their efforts.”